Jeremiah’s Message to Today’s Church Leadership
“If it feels good, do it!”
This has been one of the mottos of our culture since the 1960’s. Now it seems that the American church has adopted a similar pragmatic motto: “If it makes people feel good, we should use it.” Today we see church leaders of every persuasion trying all kinds of new things. If it works in drawing more people into services then it “works” and it must be good, right, and stamped with the very approval of God Himself. But is it?
One of the things we should remind ourselves…
is that God was VERY specific regarding how he was to be worshipped. He gave Israel precise details on what they should do in worshipping Him, what they must not do, when they were to worship Him, where they were to worship Him and how they were to worship Him. It seems that God unequivocally knows how He wants to be worshipped and cares enough about it to give us the details.
A re-occurring theme in the Old Testament is that the people of Israel continually fell into idolatry. God demanded that they worship Him alone, but they almost always came up short! God summarized their condition in the following verse:
“My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.” Jer.2:13 NIV
Notice the two aspects of Israel’s guilt: First, they abandoned or forsook the true and living God. Secondly, they did their own thing and worshipped in their own way. The cisterns are a vivid illustration of Israel’s love for worthless gods. They dug their own i.e. they worshipped other gods of their choosing, and they were broken i.e. they were worthless gods who could do nothing and were no gods at all.
What I find instructive is that they did not think they were doing anything wrong. In other words they didn’t think they had abandoned God. You see, they simply added these idolatrous practices to their temple worship. They continued to go to the temple and worship God there, but they also did the other stuff. Read through the Books of Jeremiah and Ezekiel and you will discover the people were very religious. They worshipped God the way they thought they were supposed to and they also took things into their own hands.
I try not to be too harsh on the people of Israel. It is easy to look back now and say, “How could they?” but I don’t think it was easy at the time for them to realize what they were doing. People were uneducated, and relied heavily on their leadership for direction and guidance in these matters. What kind of leadership did they have in Jeremiah’s day? Here is God’s assessment:
“A horrible and shocking thing has happened in the land: The prophets prophesy lies, the priests rule by their own authority, and my people love it this way. But what will you do in the end?” Jer. 5:30-31
The spiritual leadership of the people proclaimed things as true that were false, and they were doing their own thing i.e. ruling by their own authority, not Gods. The result: The people loved it! Let that sink in for a moment. The people LOVED it!
There is a very instructive lesson for today’s church leaders in Israel’s history of idolatry: We should examine our own practices very carefully, for perhaps we have become just as guilty as they were. Today, we can look down the long lense of history and see that Israel’s practices were obviously wrong. But living in the actual moment, they apparently could not see the magnitude of how wrong they were. I think we should at least have the moral courage to look at what we call a “worship service” and ask ourselves if we are being faithful to what God wants. Or, like the spiritual leaders of their day, are we doing our own thing? And by doing our own thing, are we leading our people astray?
This is not just a question that church leadership should be asking. Every faithful follower of Jesus Christ should be asking the same questions about their own lives as well as the congregation they belong to.
If Israel, God’s chosen people, could fall into idolatry over and over again while maintaining the appearance of a temple worship “service”, we should not think that we are immune to it.
Those are my thoughts on the subject. What about you?